Content Warning: Black and transgender death, discrimination.
Loyola alum Mark Enenbach said he met Elise Malary ten years ago at an Equality Illinois banquet after noticing how she stuck to the back of the room like a “wallflower”. Enenbach, who was volunteering at the event, approached her and encouraged her to get up on stage and give a speech about what the LGBTQ+ advocacy organization meant to her.
“Go on up there and whenever you feel nervous or alone just look back and I’ll be your smiling face,” Enenbach recalled saying.
With Enenbach’s encouragement, Malary — a French-speaking Haitian and Dominican immigrant who was still finding her way in Chicago as a young, Black, transgender woman — got up on stage and thanked the organization for the work it had done for her.
From that day forward, Malary and Enenbach formed a lifelong friendship. Malary called Enenbach “sis”, Enenbach taught her to swing dance, they went on trips to the state fair and made spontaneous plans to go to St. Louis. Malary even made Enenbach her family contact, something he had forgotten about until the morning of March 20, when he received a call regarding the death of his friend.
After Malary had been reported missing for six days, Evanston police discovered her body on the shore of Lake Michigan near the 500 block of Sheridan Square — two miles from Loyola’s Lake Shore campus. On March 17, she was declared dead on the scene at the age of 31, officials said. Malary’s case is being investigated, Evanston police said. So far no foul play is suspected but officials are still awaiting the medical examiner’s reports, police said.
Since the day of the banquet, she had grown to become an Evanston and Andersonville-based advocate for LGBTQ+ rights within the area.
“She was always very involved in the LGBT movement,” Enenbach said.
Malary served as a member of the Chicago Therapy Collective (CTC), which works to alleviate health disparities and advocate for the well-being of LGBTQ+ Chicagoans by providing education, therapy and arts. Malary also worked on the community advisory group for Equality Illinois and fundraised money for a number of organizations, according to the CTC website.
Before her death, Malary was an administrative clerk for the Civil Right Bureau at the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, according to her LinkedIn.
CTC hosted a vigil in honor of Malary March 20 outside of the Women and Children First bookstore in Andersonville. More than 100 of Malary’s close friends, co-workers and other community members lit candles, shared speeches and wrote on the wall of the building what they loved about Malary.
The mourners then walked south down North Clark Street and west on West Foster Avenue toward the Chicago Waldorf School, where they had a bonfire accompanied with music. Attendees wrote to Malary on slips of paper before dropping them in the fire.
“We are grieving with you and will ensure the work and investment Elise made in the lives of Chicago’s trans communities will be carried forward,” Lindsey Doyle, a CTC psychologist, colleague and friend of Malary’s, said at the event.“There’s really no liberation for any of us, without liberation for Black trans women. It is imperative we all do more to protect and uplift trans lives, especially Black trans lives.”
Malary’s character was reflected on by Iggy Ladden, a co-worker and friend of Malary’s, who spoke to the crowd.
“Elise faced hardness and chose kindness,” Ladden said. “Elise faced cruelty and chose softness and love and joy. She chose giving people the benefit of the doubt, she looked for the good in them. She chose compassion and she chose time and time again to lift others up.”
Vigil attendees spoke about Malary’s care for others beyond her advocacy, as she would often help the Enenbachs in times of need.
“Elise was wonderful, she came to our house, she was there when I needed help,” Kai Enenbach, the wife of Mark Enenbach, told The Phoenix. “If Mark was ill, I would call and Elise would come out. Anytime, even at 9 o’clock at night. Elise would come out.”
Over their 10-year friendship, the Enenbachs provided Malary with emotional and financial support, they said.
“Elise would visit our house as a weekend getaway, like a bed and breakfast, because we live in Downers Grove,” Kai said. “It was so sweet [Mark] would set up the bathroom for her, it was like going to a fancy hotel, with a bubble bath and all the lotions and [he would] make it like it was a little spa for her.”
The couple sat on a nearby bench on the night of the vigil as they listened to Elise’s co-workers and close friends honor her in speeches.
“Elise, I brought you the lasagna that I’ve been meaning to and trying to drop off at your apartment,” Ladden said. “I wanna talk to you, I wanna hear your voice, I wanna talk about our dreams. Elise, I love you and I will love you always.”
Days after police found Malary’s body, Tatiana “Tee Tee” Labelle, another Black trans woman was discovered dead in Chicago, according to Doyle. The Chicago Police Department (CPD) confirmed that Labelle’s remains were found in a garbage container March 18 and while the investigation is ongoing, no one is in custody.
“What we know is that although our sister Elise isn’t with us, she’s not the first,” 40th Ward Alderman Andre Vasquez, who covers Budlong Woods, Arcadia Terrace, Andersonville and Rogers Park neighborhoods said. “We lose Black women and Black trans women all the time and it’s never investigated, there’s plenty of murders that haven’t been solved. We have issues with police that don’t follow through on it.”
Black transgender women have represented 66% of all known victims of fatal violence in the U.S. since 2013, according to a study by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). Of fatal violence against transgender and gender non-conforming people, Black transgender women account for 77%, the study reported.
“If you all look around we’re all showing up for each other and we know the next couple of days, months, years, are going to be difficult because we lost Elise,” Vasquez said. “We are a tribe, we are a community, we have each other’s backs.”
Vasquez thanked the crowd for helping search for Malary by passing out flyers in Evanston, Rogers Park, Andersonville and surrounding neighborhoods. Ashleigh Irvin attended the vigil and said they heard of Malary’s death the day she planned to hand out flyers.
“I’m feeling really upset,” Irvin said. “As a Black trans woman myself, it makes me feel a little bit less safe. Especially knowing it happened in this community. It makes me feel like I could’ve been that person, I could’ve been her.”
Slater Nelson, another Black trans attendee, said more work needed to be done by community members to support and protect Black trans women.
“It’s comforting to be with community but it also reminds you of the grave reality that we face every single day,” they said. “The alderman whose out here, they’re doing a great job trying to support us. But it starts in homes, it starts in schools and there’s a lot of unlearning that needs to be done and I don’t think that’s going to happen overnight.”